Updated: 9 soldiers die in Black Hawk helicopter crash in Kentucky. Investigation underway
Nine U.S. military members have died after a crash involving two military helicopters in Western Kentucky Wednesday, according to officials with the military.
The crash happened in Trigg County and was reported at approximately 10 p.m., according to military officials. It involved two HH60 Black Hawk Helicopters that were performing a routine training mission, military officials said.
“Today is a tough and tragic day for Kentucky, for Fort Campbell, for the 101st,” said Gov. Andy Beshear, who was in attendance for a press conference outside the 101st Airborne Division.
The Marshall County Rescue Squad, which assisted at the scene of the incident, reported that nine soldiers were killed in the crash. The number of deaths was further confirmed by military officials during a press conference Thursday morning.
“The command is currently focused on caring for its servicemembers and their families,” officials said.
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Investigators have arrived on scene
Maj. Daniel Mathews with the 101st Airborne Division told the Herald-Leader Friday morning that a U.S. Army aviation safety team from Fort Rucker, Ala., arrived on scene Thursday night. The team plans to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident, Army officials said previously.
Mathews also provided more context on the crash, saying that four helicopters were participating in the training exercise when two of them crashed. One helicopter had stopped to refuel when the crash occurred. The fourth helicopter wasn’t involved in the crash, but landed and made efforts to rescue victims of the crash before calling out for help, Mathews said.
Soldiers were conducting training when crash occurred
The helicopters were flying in multi-ship formation under night-vision goggles when the crash occurred, according to Brig. Gen. John Lucas, deputy commander for 101st Airborne Division. The Black Hawk aircraft were a form of medical evacuation helicopters.
Lucas said they don’t believe the helicopters were performing medical evacuation drills when the crash occurred. There were no signals for distress prior to the crash.
Five soldiers occupied one helicopter while four other soldiers occupied the second helicopter. Lucas said that’s routine for the training exercise they were conducting. There were no survivors from the crash, Lucas said, and the crash happened in an open field.
An Army aviation safety team from Fort Rucker, Ala., will conduct a thorough investigation into the accident, Army officials said.
All of the victims were based in Fort Campbell with the 101st Airborne Division, according to Lucas. The identities of the victims were still withheld Thursday morning, as the Army was still working to notify family members. Lucas said no one was transported to the hospital from the scene of the crash.
Beshear said he would be in Fort Campbell to support service members and their families.
“We will share more information as available. Please pray for all those affected,” Beshear said.
We’ve got some tough news out of Fort Campbell, with early reports of a helicopter crash and fatalities are expected. @kystatepolice, @KentuckyEM and local officials are responding. We will share more information as available. Please pray for all those affected.
— Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) March 30, 2023
Since 2018, there have been an average of seven aviation flight mishaps per year, according to the Army. An average of five servicemen per year are killed in those incidents.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he was “devastated” to learn about the helicopter crash.
“My team is in contact with the Army and authorities on the ground. Please pray for our servicemembers and their families as we learn more,” McConnell said in a tweet.
I am devastated to learn about the Army helicopter accident over Kentucky involving our brave 101st Airborne. My team is in contact with the Army and authorities on the ground. Please pray for our servicemembers and their families as we learn more.
— Leader McConnell (@LeaderMcConnell) March 30, 2023
Kentucky State Police and Kentucky Emergency Management responded to the scene, according to Beshear. State police said they’re working with U.S. Army officials to assess the scene.
We can confirm two aircraft from the 101st were involved in an accident last night resulting in serveral casualties.
Right now the focus is on the Soldiers and their families who were involved. pic.twitter.com/eG5ndWVvbT
— 101st Airborne Div. (@101stAASLTDIV) March 30, 2023
Retired lieutenant general: Night vision goggles present challenges
In an interview with CNN, Retired Lt. General Mark Hertling said a number of factors could have contributed to the crash, including the night vision goggles. Hertling said Wednesday evening’s moonlight was satisfactory, but seeing through the night vision goggles can still be challenging.
“The problem is it’s a limited scope of being able to see, because you’re literally reduced to the two soda straws of your binoculars,” Hertling said.
Hertling mentioned that a wire or tree strike strike could’ve contributed to the crash. Hertling also said the two aircraft could’ve hit each other.
This is a developing story and will be updated.